The Coronavirus Diaries, part three: Roxboro NC and the Orange County Speedway, March 22, 2020

Last Saturday night we pushed the boundaries of social distancing and had one guest over for dinner; Maxine.   We all tried to stay six feet from each other.  Really.  The three of us had nice long conversations about all sorts of issues.   I asked Maxine for suggestions on where I should bike the next day.   Maxine is somewhat of a doyenne of artsy people in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina.   She said she knew artists who were moving, or at least talking about moving, to Roxboro, thirty miles north of Durham. Roxboro?  Really?   She said she had heard houses there were “practically free” and there were lots empty warehouses for studio space and potential performance venues.

Twenty-five years ago doing freight sales I made many drives to Roxboro (population then and now: about 8,500.)   At least then there was as a lot of manufacturing.  Those factories had freight.  “Ship with my company” I would tell them.  Roxboro is in Person County.

The racetrack Orange County Speedway is more or less on the way when driving from Chapel Hill to Roxboro.   Orange County is immediately to the southwest of Person County and is the county surrounding Chapel Hill.  Orange County has a reputation for being the one of the most liberal counties in North Carolina. (In the 2016 election: Clinton 76% Trump 22%)   I have lived in Orange County for thirty-two years and have never seen an ad for Orange County Speedway.   I have never heard anyone talk about Orange County Speedway or go to its events.  I have thought about going but somehow have never gotten around to it.  People talk about going to Durham Bulls baseball games all the time.  Why not small track auto racing?   Clearly the target audience for Orange County Speedway is not Orange County.

Orange County Speedway is tucked up into the far northeast corner of the county.   Here is the bicycle ride I took that Sunday.   Like previous bicycle rides in this pandemic, I tried very hard not get near anyone or touch anything and did not stop for lunch anywhere.

To get to a starting point I drove our car with the bicycle in the back.  When in my car at a stoplight in downtown Chapel Hill I saw these people trying to keep a social distance at the Purple Bowl, which serves açaí bowls.


Forty minutes and twenty-eight miles later I parked the Prius at my starting point:  the post office on the highway for Rougemont NC;  about fifteen miles north of Durham.

The NCDOT and its policies of widening roads have made places like Rougemont NC not seem like real towns. The “Main Street” of Rougemont is just a couple of gas stations, a church, and a dead restaurant on a four lane highway.



I bicycled off the main highway and down a two lane road heading the two miles towards the address of Orange County Speedway.


I came across what seemed like Orange County Speedway.  Depressing.   It was now a cow pasture.


Dejected, I biked about a quarter mile down the road.

To quote Homer Simpson “Doh!”  I had been looking at the OLD Orange County Speedway, or some sort of abandoned adjacent track.   The current Orange County Speedway next door looks much better.


This is a YouTube video someone took in 2016.   I still have never been to an Orange County Speedway race.


I turned the bicycle towards Roxboro, thirteen miles to the north.    This is stuff I saw along the way.





I biked some of the way on the main highway US15-501.   It being a Sunday morning during a pandemic there was not much traffic.

I have always thought that Roxboro NC rivals Shelby NC and Asheboro NC as an extreme example of a town where all downtown businesses have closed up and moved to a bypass multilane highway one mile from the original downtown.  Roxboro does have something like two miles of commercial sprawl along US15-501.


Preparing to triage patients.


Roxboro has been a town of manufacturers.   It still has several factories, including a large GKN auto parts plant.  I got off the main highway and biked into town from the south along South Main Street,  passing several abandoned factories.




Downtown in most small towns on a Sunday morning is pretty chill but here in Roxboro during a coronavirus it was like a neutron bomb had gone off.




I like the Person County courthouse.  Is this Art Deco?

Maybe because they have been less economically dynamic many towns like Roxboro still have mid-century modernist buildings around downtown.   The Roxboro Municipal Building.




This may have been one of the arts venues Maxine had talked about.



Roxboro has attractive residential buildings adjacent to downtown, some nicely kept up, some not.





Sorry for being so smug but check out the prewar gas station for sale in Roxboro, $ 62,500.00!

(click on link above)

I headed back out of town, heading south on a different two lane road.



There are lots of old tobacco barns out here, some reused some not.



Just before I arrived back in Rougemont I passed this rare car, a 1960-62 Ford Falcon Ranchero.  It has no license plate which would indicate it does not run.


I put the bicycle in the back of the Prius and drove back to Chapel Hill.

2 responses to “The Coronavirus Diaries, part three: Roxboro NC and the Orange County Speedway, March 22, 2020”

  1. Ah! Always a treat to read of your adventures. I might actually begin bicycling tomorrow (Mar. 24, 2020). Yesterday we had a dusting of snow, .4 inch. Apparently, the Rochester NY Standard Metro Area (SMA) has had the most snow this winter of any SMA in the continental US.

    Your tours inspire me to do short rides around NYS’s Finger Lakes taking care to look carefully at the buildings, people, and land.

    I think I’ll put a purchase offer in for the abandoned gas station. It is within my budget. I would have to construct a few more rooms, I have too much stuff! Anyone want service for 12 dinnerware. It’s not porcelain but is white with a scalloped edges.

    Go to the Speedway when it opens. It’s just like going to the ball game with some friends to drink beer, eat hot dogs (veggie dogs?), and talk about stuff.

    Have fun.

  2. Bruce Burnette Avatar
    Bruce Burnette

    Drove that same route several times 2 years ago in the fall, taking wife to an eye clinic in outskirts of Durham on 501. It was a pretty drive, as the leaves were in full color. I remember Rougemont.
    Sadly, Roxboro, has the highest crime rate per capita in NC. I don’t remember the racetrack or maybe have forgotten. Very nice drive to Durham from the county near Danville, Va .

    Lot of Virginians ( in South Boston area) commute to Durham for work.

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